Gender and the Art of Car Repair
During this morning’s commute into Boston the car started making a weird whoomping sound*. To my untrained ear it sounded like the car was performing some sort of subtle dance with road, where the slight shimmying of my car was a sure sign that the engine had decided to part ways with the rest of the vehicle. Luckily my partner actually knows a thing or two about cars, and had a few slightly more plausible explanations than the engine becoming self aware and annoyed with its surroundings.
The exchange was particularly timely considering a study I came across this week in The Atlantic. The article, “Auto-Repair Shops Tend to Overcharge Women, Except When They Don’t” broke down the stereotypes of auto-repair shops and misquoted prices. Are auto repair shops out to gouge women? Not really. Do they assume that men know more than women and take advantage of this fact? Sadly, yes.
Three researches from Northwestern University’s School of Management, Meghan Busse, Ayelet Israeli, and Florian Zettelmeyer conducted an experiment where AutoMD agents contacted over 4,600 repair shops to get a price-quote for a radiator replacement for a 2003 Toyota Camry. The agents took on three personas: one of a well educated consumer who knew the approximate price of a replacement radiator, one who had no idea whatsoever, and one who thought the price would be much higher than actual market value. Without looking at gender, the results were unsurprising. Those who thought it should cost more, ended up paying more. Those who had no idea and those who had some idea paid less.
Bring gender into the mix, and things got a bit more complicated.
Women who had no idea what the price of the radiator should be were quoted a far higher price—men received a quote of $383, while women were quoted $406.
Busse, one of the authors of the study, explained the discrepancy:
Repair shops probably do not inherently dislike women or take pleasure in ripping them off. Instead, the data are more consistent with statistical discrimination. Shops believe, rightly or wrongly, that women know less about cars and car repair. In the absence of information to the contrary, they will be offered a higher quote. "But when you show that stereotype is wrong"—because you reveal yourself to be an informed woman or an uninformed man—"you get treated the same way," says Busse.
When my car started making whoomping noises this morning, I was happy to pass the task of taking it into a repair shop over to my partner. While I might be the better haggler of the pair, I know he’ll walk into the repair shop and follow along with the jargon and the technical speak. I know if I walked in, I’d want them to explain everything to me in detail so I could understand, thus giving away the game. This recent study shows an educated voice (whether it be male or female) goes a lot further in the automotive game. I’m just glad I grew up listening to Car Talk every Sunday morning... otherwise, I'd be totally lost.
*To any of our readers who might be mechanics: the car does this strange shimmy only when going 40 to 50mph. It’s a 2005 Honda Civic, with an Obama bumper sticker. The alignment was just checked at the car’s last oil change two weeks ago. In the spirit of educating myself about mechanics, I’m open to suggestions.